In late August 2019, news outlets around the world reported that the world’s oldest continuously-working webcam was about to be switched off.
The San Francisco FogCam went online in 1994 and kept viewers informed of weather conditions on the San Francisco State University campus.
Judging by the name, it was often quite foggy.
Live-streaming fog may not sound very exciting, but compared to the first-ever webcam, it was actually quite thrilling.
The world’s first webcam was set up at Cambridge University and streamed live images of a coffee percolator.
The slightly more exciting San Francisco FogCam carried on streaming for 25 years until its owners announced they had run out of decent sites for the camera.
The stream was scheduled to be halted on the 30th of August 2019.
The response was overwhelming.
So overwhelming that San Francisco State University decided not to shut the stream down after all, and to this day you can still check in and see the fog in real time.
However, if fog is not your thing there are still plenty of (non-dodgy) webcams you can watch whenever you feel the need for a break.
Here are some suggestions, for anybody who wants to visit far-flung locations without having to leave the house:
Missing your summer holiday and desperate to get back to the beach?
Whether that beach was in Alicante or Madagascar, a webcam live feed from the seaside might help you to recreate the summer holiday feeling without losing your luggage.
If you’re more of a city slicker, you can drop in live on cities worldwide from Dublin to Hong Kong.
Or click on a webcam live stream from Houston in Texas or – somewhat randomly – Cloudcroft, New Mexico
You can even go to Kazakhstan or Koh Samui.
Closer to home, you can enjoy a lovely view of central Oxford – or the Naples of the north, Morecambe.
Live a different life
If you have a good broadband connection and some time to kill, webcams can also let you try out a different life for a few moments.
Ever fancied being a chef? Now you can hang out in the kitchen of a Russian pizza parlour.
Or get a virtual haircut in Nottingham followed by a pint in Dublin.
You can even get an idea of what it’s like to be a jellyfish at Vancouver Aquarium (apparently jellyfish don’t have hearts or brains so it may not be much fun).
Of course webcams can be practical, too. If you live in Swindon there’s a webcam over your local domestic refuse tip, so you can see how bad the queues are.
Or you can check out the queues on the M1. Other motorways are also available.
(Fans of a picturesque view might enjoy watching the traffic queuing on the Forth Road Bridge, while the newly-opened public transport bridge stands empty a few hundred yards away).
Nearly thirty years since the geeks of Cambridge decided to live stream their coffee-maker, the world of webcams has grown beyond their wildest dreams.
It’s now entirely possible to see many of the world’s greatest sites in real time, without ever having to leave your armchair.
All you need is decent broadband and an adventurous spirit.